Ringo Redux

Being an appreciation of the other “Stagecoach,” the one in color and CinemaScope directed in 1966 and newly released, for the first time in anamorphic widescreen, by the boutique label Twilight Time, including some observations on how the unassuming Douglas makes the material its own, nudging it from Ford’s self-consciously mythic vision toward something more modest, pragmatic, and humanly scaled, all right here in the New York Times.

249 comments to Ringo Redux

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I have not read The Informer to compare it, and you raise a partially valid point. But what I also think is equally relevant is comparing it to Ford’s other work – and the film on a number of levels seems set apart. But equally important, Ford was never a slave to his material with other adaptations, and in any event it is what he emphasized in the material that is equally or more important.

    I am not suggesting Gypo is gay of course. I am saying that Ford identified with a character haunted by guilt over being “found out,” for being a betrayer to his roots and background, for his own self-loathing, for his being an outcast from his church. From what I can tell, that is a key part of Liam O’Flaherty’s novel; it certainly is equally so in the film. That it has a quality that for me is different from most of Ford’s films (it is among his grimmest – even They Were Expendable feels more optimistic).

    As things relate to Stagecoach – the whole Ford/Wayne drama beyond their incredible work together aside, the introductory shot of him – in which Wayne’s nine years as an outcast for his perceived betrayal of Ford for starring in The Big Trail without “permission” preceded this – then being introduced in one of the great character introducing shots in history (and stylistically very atypical for Ford) – this is among other things charged in my view with strong male sexual objectification.

  • Alex

    “fascinating puzzle of John Ford, Irish and American, liberal and conservative, populist and militaristic, Catholic and (well maybe nothing else there?), studio filmmaker and auteur, and maybe straight and gay”

    Take out “liberal” — which I think is usually applied to Ford out of almost total unappreciation of the communitarian appeal of Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” and of the enhanced communitarian turn Ford gives the novel right along social science commonplace about a revolutionary as a man gone extreme in the defense of threats to his traditions– and there’s little puzzle: just an Irish-American, militaristic populist (like say Joseph McCarthy, to use exaggerated but telling comparison) who’s no more enmeshed in the studio system than most of Sarris’ U.S. auteurs and a heart like all outdoors plus a wildly roving twinkle in his eyes.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I won’t take out liberal – Ford was a New Deal/Roosevelt supporter in the 1930s, and a major labor union within the industry backer – indeed, it was the fight between the industry (with the Academy on the anti-union side) and the Directors’ Guild that led to his refusing to show up at the Academy dinner the year he first won the Oscar. Joseph McBride says he and only one person on the set of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon cast absentee ballots for Harry Truman in 1948, and when some Dewey voters (like John Wayne) berated FDR and Truman for being communists, ridiculed them by saying “you guys all became millionaires under them.” He of course also supported Kennedy in 1960. It wasn’t until 1964 that he openly endorsed any Republican for president.

    There are other references in the many biographies of him of his sometime liberal politics. And of course one can point to conservative positions over the years – but that was my point. He could be both, and was.

    And to compare him to McCarthy is, I’m so, absurd and totally unfounded. This was someone (and yes, the story is somewhat more complicated than the myth) stood up to Cecil B. DeMille and Sam Wood and other McCarthyite DGA members when they were trying to oust Joseph Mankiewicz. The only things apart from their Irish Catholicism he and McCarthy had in common were their heavy drinking and possibly hidden gay sides.

  • Barry — the Japanese high school baseball championship series may be even bigger in terms of public interest there than the college basketball tournament here in the US. In its first round, it involves every high school team in Japan, playing in regional (prefectural) tournaments. And things keep getting winnowed — until the finals at Koshien stadium (involving all the prefectural champions).

    A recent documentary does a decent job at giving you the flavor of just how intense this whole process is: http://www.pbs.org/pov/kokoyakyu/ .

    (I defer to Junko as to precise details — and as to the current enthusiasm level for this championship series.

  • Barry Putterman

    Michael, basketball and football have most certainly exceeded baseball on the intensity level of high school and college sports here. Of course, as documentaries about our high school sports programs seem to indicate, intensity is a positive factor only up to a certain point.

    Tom, examining THE INFORMER in relation to its source novel is indeed only partially what needs to be done. But it is the part which will be missing from the analysis if it is not done. And who knows, looking at the film’s relationship to the novel might even add further evidence to your case.

    Jean-Pierre, where you belong is right here on the lost continent with the rest of us cinephiles.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Old topic: Good baseball movies — Keaton’s COLLEGE, and the solo baseball game in THE CAMERAMAN. It’s interesting, in terms of their relative popularity, that Keaton’s sport was baseball, and Harold Lloyd’s was football, with some crossover (Keaton essayed football gags, and Lloyd is a Yankees fan in SPEEDY). Baseball was much more popular in the 1920s, and exhibitor comments in the trades at the time on THE FRESHMAN noted that the film was less popular in small towns where there was no nearby college, rendering the sport relatively unknown.

    Had a lively discussion today with a friend to the point that any sport or game can be cinematic, if treated properly; bridge came up, and I was able to suggest GRAND SLAM (Dieterle, 1933) and Roscoe Arbuckle’s short BRIDGE WIVES (1932) with Al St. John. Bridge was quite popular in the early 1930s (witness its appearance in many period films, from ANIMAL CRACKERS to MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW).

    Older topic: Sayles versus Preminger. Most of us would agree that Preminger is a better director. We love his camera movements and mobile framing. We like Otto’s ambiguity, while Sayles can be heavy handed and obvious in his sympathies (most recently, SUNSHINE STATE and SILVER CITY) as well as, provisionally, his camera movements (I can’t point to any clunky examples here but for sake of the argument I’ll take Michael’s word for it). Nonetheless, Sayles’ multicharacter portrayals of societies (EIGHT MEN OUT, CITY OF HOPE, LONE STAR most obviously) compare well in their generosity to Altman’s model and hold their own in terms of perceptive editorial commentary with even the best Premingers. Moreover there are many fine performances and some great ones in his work from SECAUCUS SEVEN on. An interesting final point of comparison with Preminger: we love the teasing conclusions of films like ANATOMY OF A MURDER. Sayles goes for a more obvious ambiguity with his shock open endings in LIMBO (and at least one other film).

    Hot topic: Tom, in what form and forum will you be presenting your completed book/essay/commentary on Ford’s sexuality?

  • Tom Brueggemann (October 21, 2011 at 4:24 pm), what you say about John Ford’s THE INFORMER had never occurred to me, but it is interesting to compare it with the previous film adaptation, Arthur Robison’s THE INFORMER with Lars Hanson as Gypo Nolan. It’s a powerful Expressionistic version, but John Ford’s version is certainly more personal (and heavy-handed). Interestingly, John Ford’s THE INFORMER was Samuel Fuller’s personal favourite film, and Fuller’s debut film as a director, I SHOT JESSE JAMES, is an obvious tribute, and the undercurrents that Tom Brueggemann discusses are almost explicit in it.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Antti, I didn’t know there was an earlier INFORMER with Lars Hanson as Gypo Nolan. When you say it’s a powerful Expressionistic version, is it even more so than Ford’s? Because among Ford’s sound films I can’t think of one where the influence of the Weimar silents are as strongly felt as in THE INFORMER.

    Since Cecil B. DeMille was mentioned, and is now mostly remembered as the archconservative McCarthyite he was in the 1950s, I just thought I’d add that he wasn’t like this all his life. One of the many surprising things I learned about DeMille in Scott Eyman’s excellent biography is that in 1932 he not only voted for FDR but also helped him campaign in Los Angeles.

  • nicolas saada

    Having had the privilege to attend the wonderful LUMIERE festival instigated in Lyon by Thierry Fremeaux and Bertrand Tavernie, I should add that my basic personal pantheon of major american directors was shattered by the rediscovery of Wellman’s films. Watching WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD and OTHER MEN’S WOMEN on a big screen (after having been blown away by the dvd release of the same titles)was a major ecperience (35mm prints). And also, the screening od THE STORY OF GI JOE came as a sort of momentum. I won’t question Ford’s place in my heart and soul, both as a film lover and a filmmaker, but Wellmann comes wuite close in the pantheon of what I call the GCAD, Great Classic American Directors: Vidor, Ford, Walsh…

  • nicolas saada

    by the way, there is nothing “classic ” about them !

  • Wow, I’d never have inuited a connection between I SHOT JESSE JAMES and THE INFORMER, but it seems to work!

  • The Julio Iglesias version of “La Mer” is used to great effect in the end montage of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (just watched it yesterday). Also in Olli Stone’s “W.”.

  • On baseball movies, did anyone yet mention the Farrelly’s terrific FEVER PITCH? A film whose ending needed to be re-written because the Red Socks were actually winning the games at the 2004 series.

  • Johan, both Arthur Robison and John Ford’s adaptations of THE INFORMER are powerfully Expressionistic: Robison’s film is more stylish; Ford’s has more raw energy. Robison may have had better studio arrangements at British International Pictures; the top cinematography is by Werner Brandes and Theodor Sparkuhl. RKO gave Ford poor studio circumstances for his personal project, but the cinematographer was again first-rate: Joseph H. August. Closing a circle, Samuel Fuller shot SHOCK CORRIDOR on the same studio lot, as he was amazed to learn when Ford paid him a visit there.

  • patrick henry

    I never thought of Ford’s films as having a gay subtext, or at least not any more so than a great many traditional westerns and adventure films where there’s a strong manly hero accompanied by a usually dumber sidekick who somewhat looks up to him and looks after him (nurses him, if you will) when he’s wounded or otherwise incapacitated. A friend who is gay said he sensed a gay subtext in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE in the tense scene between Wyatt and Doc Holiday talking at the bar. I don’t see this but the equivalent scene in its predecessor, Allan Dwan’s FRONTIER MARSHAL (a very good film by the way) does have an almost laughably obvious gay subtext. The Dwan has a scene where Wyatt compliments Doc on his gun (maybe it’s the other way around, I forget), and they talk about its nice features. Doc (Cesar Romero), IIRC, does not show this much conviviality with his mistress (Binnie Barnes); with her he pretty much plays the surly bad-tempered brute.

  • Alex Hicks

    “I won’t take out liberal – Ford was a New Deal/Roosevelt supporter in the 1930s, and a major labor union within the industry backer – indeed, it was the fight between the industry (with the Academy on the anti-union side) and the Directors’ Guild that led to his refusing to show up at the Academy dinner the year he first won the Oscar. Joseph McBride says he and only one person on the set of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon cast absentee ballots for Harry Truman in 1948, and when some Dewey voters (like John Wayne) berated FDR and Truman for being communists, ridiculed them by saying “you guys all became millionaires under them.” He of course also supported Kennedy in 1960.”

    Tom Brueggemann,

    Good argument. My “no liberal” argument one, based on the films alone, does still seem to me coherent in its own terms, even for THE GRAPES OF WRATH, which can be very much taken as a rallying cry for a beleaguered community. And I think partisan allegiance is a poor indicator of political ideology, especially in the famously exceptional U.S. where conservatism may mean loyalty to classical liberalism and progressive “liberal” policy is considerably to the Right of Continental European conservative policy on safety net issues.

    Nonetheless, the specific information you provide on Ford’s actual U.S. partisan politics is a revelation to me — quite enough to warrant retaining a palce for “liberal” in descriptions of Ford.

    Your argument, though, confines your claim for a liberal Ford to a time that largely corresponds to the moderate, liberal-led Republican era that emerged with Wilkie’s 1940 candidacy, dominated the Republican party across the era’s of Dewey and Eisenhower’s leadership –Wilkie offered alliance of Progressive Republican with Non-Southern Democrats after his ’49 defeat, Dewey used “New Deal Republican” rhetoric in his campaign and Clinton could famously san of his first year “We are just Eisenhower Republicans”– an era that only began to wane with the 1964 Goldwater candidacy and the ’68 Nixon embrace of a “Southern Strategy” on the heels of Goldwater’s discovery that only the State’s Right plank of his libertarian platform had the power to win outside of Arizona (win the full “ Deep South”) while the rest of his free market ideas had no popular appeal at all (though such appeal would take hold of zealots spread).

    The so-called “Lincoln Liberal” who went Democratic with the Republican shift right after Goldwater were perhaps truer liberals than the Democrats who went Right with the Goldwater/Nixon shifts of the 1960s.

    Still, if Ford was an eary New Dealer he beat Wilkie and the Progressive Democrats shifting “left.”

  • Johan Andreasson

    David D: With all this talk here about which sports are accessible in which countries, FEVER PITCH has a pretty interesting history. It started out as an autobiographical book by British author Nick Hornby about his life as a soccer fan (his team is Arsenal – and by the way this is a very good book, the best one about being a soccer fan I’ve read). In 1997 it was adapted to a British movie with a script by Hornby himself where he’s fictionalized the story, concentrating on Arsenal’s First Division championship-winning season in 1988-89 and its effect on the protagonist’s romantic relationship. It is this movie that is the bases for the Farrelly Brothers film, but with the sport changed from soccer to baseball and the team from Arsenal to the Boston red Sox and their winning 2004 season.

    An odd thing is that there is an American book, “Faithful” by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan, that chronicles the 2004 season of the Red Sox in very much the same way that the movie version of “Fever Pitch” does with Arsenal, so it’s puzzling to me why the Farrellys didn’t base their movie on that book.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘the High School Championship series in Japan is as popular (or more popular) and exciting as professional baseball. American baseball has nothing comparable to this.’

    I did not know about that. That is difference. High school baseball very popular in Japan, similar to college football in America.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    This is nothing new – when I was a high school student in the late 1960s, football and basketball were the two team sports that get major attention. Baseball probably got less than swimming, track, wrestling and gymnastics. I suspect the lack of attention goes back even further.

    The same is true in college.

    Since then, soccer has become a much bigger deal in high school than baseball.

    It is one of the reasons that major league baseball in the US has so many non-American players – promising US young athletes choose at an early age to commit to football or basketball at an early age. This is curious in that baseball, much more than football or basketball, is not at the pro level (or even college level) as limited in terms of body size, thus including a far wider range of athletes.

    Further anecdotally – what is played in school and then more often in forums, even in adulthood, is softball, not baseball. I don’t know if I’ve ever played a real game with an actual baseball in my life, while earlier on into my 30s I did participate in organized softball games. But people who play football and basketball do play with the same ball (although tackle football is something most people never play).

  • My sister says her favorite baseball film is THE PRIDE OF ST LOUIS (Harmon Jones, 1952). This is a biopic about pitcher-turned announcer Dizzy Dean. I’ve never seen it, or even heard of it.

    The documentary THE LIFE AND TIMES OF HANK GREENBERG is also outstanding.

    I love the scene in SPEEDY where Harold Lloyd gets Babe Ruth in his cab.

    The baseball murder mystery DEATH ON THE DIAMOND (Edward Sedgwick) is really campy, and not much good. Remember all those scenes in Old Dark House movies where a closet door is opened, and a murder victim falls out, flat on his face?
    In DEATH ON THE DIAMOND someone opens the door of a baseball locker and…

  • I know the rules of baseball, because I played it it the neighborhood as a kid (softball, actually).
    But realize I never learned the rules of soccer. Or boules, as seen in THE LITTLE THEATER OF JEAN RENOIR.
    And have never learned the rules of poker.
    Will be trying to pick up on all of this.

    Just saw a poker game on THE VIRGINIAN, where the hero exposes a crooked gambler.
    Didn’t understand the poker events.
    But fortunately, the filmmakers had been reading David Bordwell, and learned that Hollywood films are supposed to be full of “redundant information”.

    When the Virginian starts to suspect the dealer is cheating, he whips out his pistol and places on top of his cards. Even folks like me realized that something was Wrong.
    He also starts looking tense. And ominous music appears in the background.

    The crooked dealer is dressed in a really fancy gambler’s suit, complete with shiny red vest. It is too gaudy for even the Maverick Brothers, or Howard Keel’s professional gambler in SHOWBOAT.
    I knew this guy was a crook the minute he appeared on screen.
    So did any 5-year-olds watching.
    Oddly, the Virginian and the other man on the table didn’t notice anything about the way he was dressed.
    Only after a few poker hands did the Virginian figure our something was wrong.

    Good redundancy helps, even if you don’t know poker.

  • nicolas saada

    THE BIG LEAGUER, Aldrich’s first film, was, I think, a sports film. it’s a very uncomfortable “sub genre” in cinema. But sports can also bring intense moments in films: we mentioned STRAY DOG, but there’s also STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, THE LONGEST YARD…
    Which leads us back to Ford and the horse race in THE QUIET MAN!, and the wonderful short fillms made for tv. Ford’s politics seem less conservative than they might seem when you look at lesser known of his works such as PILGRIMAGE or FOUR SONS. And some of the strongest scenes of CHEYENNE AUTUMN are seldom found in other films of that era.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I think part of the problem with typing Ford’s political views is that his films didn’t usually deal with contemporary political issues per se. That he seems interested in “traditional” values (whatever that entails) makes him seem more “conservative,” although of course any reading of his films would show they often question those values, although in a way that suggests something less than a desire to upend them.

    Look at The Hurricane though (also a gay subtext there, particularly in objectifying the-then pretty much unknown Jon Hall) – and the villain/strict law and order judge, his nemesis was played by Raymond Massey, later known as a significant very right-wing political activist in the US (despite being Canadian).

  • jbryant

    Ritchie’s THE BAD NEWS BEARS should be mentioned; he certainly had an affinity (or was pigeonholed?) for sports- and competition-themed films.

    I seem to recall enjoying a 1987 HBO film about the minor leagues in the 1950s, LONG GONE, that starred William Petersen and Virginia Madsen, and featured the fun casting of Henry Gibson and magician Teller as father and son team owners.

  • Rick K.

    My copy of STAGECOACH ’66 arrived … which I probably wouldn’t have ordered were it not for Dave’s recommendation. I recall seeing it once before, years ago, a 16mm scope print which had faded considerably. The Twilight Time DVD certainly improved colors, though one suspects it must have looked still better in ’66 before chemical changes reduced/altered the hues of so-called “color by deluxe”. Using a video projector, the Twilight Time DVD seemed a little soft, not as sharp as earlier Fox Classic releases, or the Paramounts from Olive Films, or even the better MODs from Warner Archive. But on a smaller screen, the image looked fine.

    Always appreciate when Dave spotlights an out-of-the-way release like this one, though I’m not entirely in sync with the NYT piece. Much as we all admire Ford, I’m not sure that he had in mind to actually create a myth with STAGECOACH ’39 … while Ford always downplayed high aspirations with his “job of work” rhetoric (which we all know was at least partly a cover-up), I question whether an artist as instinctive as Ford actually set out to achieve any particular transcendence. Whatever the case, Douglas was wise not to approach the material as a remake. I recently watched his GOLD OF THE 7 SAINTS, which is an unsung western gem, its ace characters, bw widescreen desert vistas, pace and style are a tribute to the genre. And although STAGECOACH fell short, Douglas still excels in his use of natural locations, especially impressive when juxtaposing a cramped stagecoach interior using widescreen cameras (which even Ford would almost certainly have considered a major challenge) Douglas and Clothier (a seasoned Ford cinematographer) avoided any notion of awkward continuity which COULD have compromised the smooth forward motion of the film. Nor was I disappointed by the eventual Indian attack, divided between its forest chase and a far from “squalid” shootout. Douglas choreographed the stunts and classic devices without fault, and its transition to shootout was well-achieved, including a short break between two enemy advances for both the cast and audience to catch their breath.

    Where the film fell short (for me, anyway) were the two saloon sequences, one at the beginning (introducing Crosby, Connors, Margret, etc.) and, unfortunately, the final showdown. Of the latter, I couldn’t perceive the noir aesthetic which Dave alluded to, and, although the showdown was admittedly brutal and perfunctory, the setups in the saloon seemed to ACCENT their soundstage origins, while the potential for widescreen composition to enhance suspense lacked imagination, or were at least misjudged. Incidentally, am I the only one who thinks Douglas alum Clint Walker would have made a good Ringo Kid? (though perhaps the “Kid” would need to be modified).

    While I’m very happy that Twilight Time is picking up where Fox left off in releasing a hopefully long line of studio titles, my only concern (speaking as I did early on about Warner Archive) is a hope that pricing may be occasionally adjusted via special offers or annual sales (though the “limited edition” concept may exclude this), to broaden the reach of their selections to cinephiles, among them, those of us known to ration grocery expenses to accommodate DVD purchases. For example, would love to have picked up a blu-ray of THE EGYPTIAN … but $45 with postage for one title is just TOO steep! I understand that Screen Archives will also be handling Sony Classics Blu-ray exclusively, with titles like BELL BOOK AND CANDLE, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND ’61 and THE BIG HEAT, so I hope that reasonable pricing prevails … a Twilight Time Christmas sale would be excellent!

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I suspect Ford considered Stagecoach to be an important film for him – it was his return to the genre that had made him famous for the first time in a sound film, and it launched his long-delayed protege John Wayne – but the highest compliment ever paid to it came from Orson Welles, who watched the film over and over in preparation for making Citizen Kane, each time with a different colleage – composer, editor, DP, art director and so on – so he could view Ford’s choices intricately.

  • Alex

    Ford’s “Stagecoach” is a wonderful film. I see it annually as part of showing for a course I teach and it only gets richer and more vibant with each viewing. Dave K’s view of it as “a meta-western, a film that deals in archetypes rather than individuals, and epic themes rather than genre conventions” seems to me mistaken, The major “individuals” in the film –the Sheriff, Ringo, Dallas all are well drawn and as complex as protagonists in other major Ford Westerns. If some lesser characters are two dimensional they are so in the best tradition of vivid secondary characters without great development or nuance that is true to the classical Novel (Dickens) and the Classical Hollywood Cinema( e.g., Irish Cops). True they are ALSO mythic, but his is an enhancement not a narrowing. Rather than evade narrative conventions, the film is a primal example of the vengeance Western (well delineated in Will Wright’s great “Sixguns and Society,” albeit a vengeance Western embedded in a travel saga (also of a classical sort with narrative roots, I suppose in Smollett’s great “Humphrey Clinker”). The saloon scenes are true to their narrative functions; the final shootout a masterpiece of effective understatement. Ringo’s final exit with Dallas is a nice integration of communitarian and individualistic –alas vigilante– strains in Ford. Dudley Nichols’ great script should not be held against Ford who did better with great that channeled talents that ones to close to his ideological predilections such as those for Wagon master with its vapid, saccharine view of Mormons or that for the “The Sun Shines Bright>” with its invitation to Dixiephilic reactionary communitarian fantasy.

    Any relation between Ford’s “Dtagecoach” and the mundane Gordon Douglas “Stagecoach” communitarian is purely coincidental.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I really don’t think Ford cared much one way or another about Mormons, much less felt a kinship with them that made him more comfortable with his supposedlt conservative/reactionary worldview. That’s not remotely what I got from Wagonmaster. If anything,

    Here’s how Joseph McBride describes the film in his biography:

    “Ford finds in Wagonmaster the purity of a vanished era when faith in the American future was the stuff of everyday life, a time when, at least in his fervently romantic imagination, it was still possible for Americans to transcend the divisive forces of social prejudice. Wagonmaster did not come with the usual trappings of a protest film, but that’s what it was, Ford’s indirect protest of the darkness, suspicion, and hatred that had eveloped America by the middle of the 20th century.”

    He further says it was easier for him to do this in a world in which he was more comfortable, rather than contemporary. What interested him in Mormoms was that they were outcasts, radicals, somewhat akin to immigrants.

    In other words, if anything, it is a liberal, not conservative, film. To say because he was portraying a society that today is regarded as very conservative somehow vindicates your view of his political views is to me inaccurate and at odds with both the film and any understanding of Ford’s own complicated world view.

  • ” To say because he was portraying a society that today is regarded as very conservative somehow vindicates your view of his political views is to me inaccurate and at odds with both the film and any understanding of Ford’s own complicated world view.”

    Indeed. There is no one-to-one correspondence between the political views that Ford held as an individual and the politics one can derive from his films.

    In McBride’s biography he quotes from a letter that Ford wrote to his nephew who was with the International Brigades in Spain where Ford declared himself in solidarity with the Republic and donated money to buy an ambulance. Ford’s nephew was very likely a communist or a fellow traveler. Years later he was a putative Cold Warrior personally and at the same time critical of the Cold War mind set as an artist.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    During the height of the witch hunt in the late 1940s, Ford’s response about a writer about to be blacklisted was “Send the commie son of a bitch to me – I’ll hire him.”

  • David Cohen

    Wagonmaster seems to me to be about the triumph of flexible but still moral leadership at the expense of both inflexible religious doctrine and a warped and demented family. That doesn’t strike me as a conservative message.

  • Brian Dauth

    In Ford’s films there is a fascinating dialectic between a Burkean reverence for tradition and social harmony versus a a strong understanding that social reform is vital and must occur. Besides his formal mastery, his deep engagement with this dialectic is what makes his films so intriguing.

  • pete

    THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS was one of the few films (also THE STRATTON STORY) to shoot baseball scenes at Hollywood’s Gilmore Field, home of the minor league Hollywood Stars, once co-owned by Gail Patrick (who threw out the park’s first pitch, to Joe E. Brown, while Jane Withers stood in the box). The crowd for the Stars was said to be similar to what we think of today at Laker games. You might see Spencer Tracy or Bugsy Siegel.

    Most of the baseball movies mentioned in the thread, and several others (Joe E. Brown alone gives us FIREMAN, SAVE MY CHILD, ALIBI IKE and ELMER, THE GREAT ), including a notable non-sports film, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY, and the TV series HOME RUN DERBY, were filmed at LA’s Wrigley Field. Excruciating minutia? Perhaps!

  • Alex

    Tom B.,

    Its precisely Ford’s use of Morman’s as icons for the “purity of a vanished era when faith in the American future was the stuff of everyday life” that seems to me to undercut the whole film with a phony,a-histoticval mysticism around which Travis and Sandy and their Kkid companion have their little adventure with the Cleggs.
    I can’t see where I characterized “Waggon Master” politcally –conservative or otherwise– although I did refer to “The Sun Shines Bright” as reactionary.

    It seems to me that Ford was generally near his worst in the film he reputedly reported to “`came closest to being what” he “had wanted to achieve,” namely “Wagon Master” “The Sun Shines Bright” and “The Fugitive.” Each film seeks to wax radiant about some transcendental refer — Mormans, the Jim Crow Era neo-confedracy and, Catholic– on which Ford lavished a lot of abstracted sentimentaliity.

    On the other hand Frod reportedly told to Lindsay Anderson that favourite was “My Darling Clementine,” a film in which the purity lent the Church going evangelical strikes me as proportioned, not too sentimentalized, grounded in character and true –and a source of much lyrical beauty for a film of multiple,well harmomnizeed virtues that is my favorite Ford.

    Ford’s feeling for communitarian and emotional transcendence seems to me to ring most true when it is at it’s most secular (merchant marine solidarity, military camaraderie, the community dance, romance in “The Long Voyage Home,” the cavalry trilogy, numerous Western dances, and the “Clementine” and “Quiet Man” romances) than when he thinks he’s expressing more religious/mystical modes of transcendence that show him more obsessive than comprehensding — or simply confusing the Dixie self-promotional myth with Dixie culture.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I don’t think Ford cared one bit about Mormons other than that in Wagon Master except they were outsiders being denied their freedom. I see nothing in the film that endorses what we know to be conservative features of that religion. They were just a vehicle for his story, which, like nearly all his work, combines elements that can be called both conservative and liberal.

    I sense that you only want to see the conservative elements, and when they exist, the equally strong liberal elements automatically are discarded as secondary. That’s where you and I differ – I see both, as do it appears most other viewers of Ford here. And that they both exist is part of what makes Ford great.

    In any event, even if a film artist is a conservative, but still makes great films, despite my own political beliefs I refuse to dismiss that film out of hand any more than I dismiss Potemkin because I reject Communism.

  • Barry Putterman

    Tom, maybe it is time to dip into Gregg’s archive for the Alex and MY SON JOHN file. Even on the lost continent those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Not sure what you mean Barry.

  • Barry Putterman

    Just that this conversation regarding Ford reminds me very much of an earlier conversation I was involved in concerning McCarey.

  • Patrick

    “It seems to me that Ford was generally near his worst in the film he reputedly reported to “`came closest to being what” he “had wanted to achieve,” namely “Wagon Master” “The Sun Shines Bright” and “The Fugitive.” Each film seeks to wax radiant about some transcendental refer — Mormans, the Jim Crow Era neo-confedracy and, Catholic– on which Ford lavished a lot of abstracted sentimentaliity.”

    Seems to me that half of the point of THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT is what an intolerant place the Jim Crow Era neo-Confederacy was. Racially, class-wise – and even JUDGE PRIEST isn’t an uncritical Dixie idyll.

  • Patrick

    “In Ford’s films there is a fascinating dialectic between a Burkean reverence for tradition and social harmony versus a a strong understanding that social reform is vital and must occur. Besides his formal mastery, his deep engagement with this dialectic is what makes his films so intriguing.”

    Bingo.

  • Howdy all,

    I’ll back-up jbryant’s mention of BAD NEWS BEARS, my favorite baseball film and one of my top sports movies period. As a long-standing fan of numerous types of games I generally dislike most attempts to capture its essence cinematically, and sports bio-pics are particularly tough going, though GENTLEMAN JIM and RAGING BULL are exceptions. As jbryant said, Ritchie had a thing for competiton, and BEARS is more about the nuts and bolts of winning and losing in relation to everyday life; it’s not about glamour or transcendence or celebrating physical excellence or discovering how to get ahead in business by executing the 4-6-3 double play. Anyway, here’s part of something I wrote on BEARS after rewatching the film a few years ago, fully expecting it not to hold up under adult scrutiny and being pleasantly surprised to find just the opposite….

    The vast majority of the movie takes place during the daytime and while my observation about that is rather blunt, I’ll make it anyway: Ritchie is determined to shed light on both the nature of his cast of characters and the environment they find themselves in. It makes perfect sense to place nearly all of the narrative in the sharp brightness of daylight, where the actions of the people and the harsh reality of the situation are on full display. There are also some very effective shots, successions of shots to put a fine point on it, of character’s observing, listening, and reacting to the words and actions of others. Walter Matthau’s alcoholic team manager is fascinating: in a less complex film he would be a flawed yet angelic character who takes a group of inept misfits under his wing and in the process warms the hearts of the audience while becoming a better person. Not here. Morris Buttermaker only takes the job because he’s getting paid (bottom-feeding opportunist) and proceeds to drive the hapless group of kids around while drunk, at one point passing out from sheer inebriation on the field during a practice. His dugout rants are the antithesis of feel-good audience manipulation, and again, the reaction shots of the kids are infused with a sharp passivity. They’ve heard it before, but now it’s coming from someone who’s supposed to be on their side. Due to the inclusion of two talented players, the Bears slowly improve and improbably but inevitably end up in the championship game, where Ritchie gets the opportunity to integrate his thematic and visual ideas with real success. The game unwinds slowly, giving the illusion of real time. This helps adequately situate the actions of the characters, particularly the two adults, Buttermaker and the opposing manager played by Vic Morrow. Morrow is surely the ‘bad guy’ in the film, but his success at winning is the only thing that really allows him to play that role effectively. Buttermaker is a loser, but he’s also a lout, and at one point he angrily showers the Bears’ female pitcher (played by Tatum O’Neal) with beer when she won’t stop trying to orchestrate some off-season activities between her and him and her mom (who happens to be Buttermaker’s ex-girlfriend). All she wants is some adult stability (some “normalcy”) in her life, and for her troubles she ends up with a noggin soaked with suds. Ritchie’s world isn’t one of heroes and villains. Instead, it’s loaded with winners and losers. Often they do the same things, but the blatant objectification of success (and how that bleeds over into how people treat others) gives the actions of the winners a distasteful effectiveness. His losers aren’t noble as much as they are lucky. They get the opportunity to learn some important things before the druggy rush of success somehow finds them and dulls the chance that they will navigate the progression to adulthood with some semblance of human decency intact. In THE BAD NEWS BEARS, the grown-ups are pretty much a lost cause. The hope for the future lies with the kids.

    In reference to another aspect of this weighty and most impressive thread, I’ve avoided the remake of BEARS and say this as a big supporter of Richard Linklater’s work. As good as or better than the original? Doubtful. I’ve a sneaking suspicion it’s not even in the same ballpark….

    Sorry.

  • Barry Putterman

    Joseph, like you I am a fan od the Ritchie BAD NEWS BEARS and have avoided the remake. And while I agree with your assessment in a general way, I think that you oversimplify a bit.

    Yes, Ritchie’s theme is competition and his winners usually wind up in soulless isolation (Redford in DOWNHILL RACER and THE CANDIDATE) and his losers older but wiser (Joan Prather in SMILE, the Bears here). But hey man, it was the 70s and that was the brief window during which it was alright to say such things. I think that Ritchie escapes Dave’s wisenheimer category by giving it all a bit more depth.

    Redford’s winner in THE CANDIDATE and Prather’s loser in SMILE are actually soulmates; good hearted, well meaning people who allow themselves to be passively manipulated by the competitions they are in. Similarly, Matthau here is indeed something of a drunken lout, but he is also a “flawed yet angelic character who takes a group of inept misfits under his wing and in the process warms the hearts of the audience while becoming a better person.” For every Robert Newton moment Matthau has, it is countered with ones like the conversation with the error plauged shortstop up in the tree. And Tatum O’Neal isn’t just a passively beer soaked moppet yearning for stability, but consistantly Matthau’s better at selfish and manipulative behavior.

    But, as i said, I think we are in essential agreement about this film. It is a good Ritchie film and a good baseball film because baseball itself isn’t at its core about “glamour or transcendence,’ but rather “the nuts and bolts of winning and losing in relation to everyday life.”

  • Alex

    Tom B.,

    Why do you think my critique of “Wagon Master” has anything to do with Ford as a conservative, or even political? Because we’d earlier discussed Ford’s ideologocal inclination? (Even thiough I’d agreed with you on Ford as something of a liberal, at least for a time?)

    That the Mormans are “just a vehicle for his story” is the whole point of my criticism of “Wagon Master,” which I like but find vacuous precisely where some find it deep in some vision of American spirituality. (Yes, I do agree it’s
    “just a vehicle for his story.”)

    Barry is reading and recollecting a bit carelessly. The a-historicism of Ford’s use of the Morman’s and the political parochialism or McCarey’s “My Son John” are entirely different matters.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Alex – since you seem to think Ford was political conservative, and wrote that Wagon Master was close to his ideological predilictions (your words from an earlier post) it didn’t seem like much of a leap to say that you regard it as a conservative film.

    I’m not sure that I grasp your point about his use of Mormons – is it that they aren’t held up to some sort of criticism or at least examination? Dramatic art is full of examples of people and groups used to further a story who were far different in history than their use in a specific work.

    One of the minor things I like about Wagon Master actually is that it isn’t “about” them the way, for example, Kenry King’s Brigham Young (a pretty clear whitewashing that sets itself up as history) does.

  • Robert Garrick

    It was Henry Hathaway, not Henry King, who directed “Brigham Young, Frontiersman.”

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Thanks Robert – understandable but still conspicuous mistake.
    I should note that after my last post I did see that Alex had adjusted his view on Ford’s political views, so last comments were not relevant as intended.

  • Alex

    Tom B.,

    My point about the Morman’s as an infelicitous vehicle is that their journey is central to the core transcentalist mood of the film, but historically dubious as a basis for such.

    Quite reasonable to seem me as regarding “Wagon Master” as cionservative. However, I HAD focussed on the film’s a-historical use of the Morman’s as a sort of pseudo-spirituality.

    On the conservatism of “The Sun Shines Bright,” I’d go with Rosenbaum’s statement from his “Doffering Relics” paper: “The Sun Shines Bright Ford is better described as conservative or a reactionary, albeit one with certain progressive convictions.”

  • Antoni Carls

    “It seems to me that Ford was generally near his worst in the film he reputedly reported to “`came closest to being what” he “had wanted to achieve,” namely “Wagon Master” “The Sun Shines Bright” and “The Fugitive.” Each film seeks to wax radiant about some transcendental refer — Mormans, the Jim Crow Era neo-confedracy and, Catholic– on which Ford lavished a lot of camisetas promocionais abstracted sentimentaliity.”

    Seems to me that half of the point of THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT is what an intolerant place the Jim Crow Era neo-Confederacy was. Racially, class-wise – and even JUDGE PRIEST isn’t an uncritical Dixie idyll.

  • Michael Kane

    I think Ford’s shootout was brilliant too; a gradual buildup, Ringo throwing himself towards the camera (which is low on the ground), cut to Claire Trever starting at the sound of gunshots, cut to a bar, and the villain walking in for a drink. If it seems perfunctory, that’s because Ford holds the crucial information back till the last possible minute. The final reveal has been borrowed over and over again, not the least by Mario O’Hara and the fate of his heroine in Three Years Without God.

    Nice alternate point of view, Dave. And since our host welcomed news of the contemporary film world, would anyone violently object to my assertion that the best mainstream movie of the year so far has been Bennett Miller’s Moneyball–which isn’t saying much, but is at least something?